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What Does a Periodontist Do?

Many people are familiar with dentists and what they do, however not as many people are familiar with the various types of dental specialists. While general dentists can treat a range of dental concerns, certain dental specialists tend to focus on a specific area of study and have a deeper level of knowledge about that area. 

One such dental specialist is called a periodontist. A periodontist, or periodontal specialist, works to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease. Essentially periodontists are specialists that focus on the gums and supporting structures of the teeth. They can also place dental implants and perform gum grafting or contouring surgeries. For this reason, periodontists are sometimes referred to as “the plastic surgeons of dentistry”. 

Periodontists have to undergo the same training as a general dentist. This means they must complete an undergraduate degree and four years at an accredited dental school. To earn their speciality title, however, periodontists must complete an additional three years of specialty and clinical training in the field of periodontology. Once their training is complete and they obtain the proper practicing license, they can officially practice as a periodontist. 

While general dentists can treat minor gum issues, you may want to see a periodontist if: 

  • Your bit has suddenly changed
  • Your teeth are loose
  • Your gums are red, swollen, or bleeding
  • Your gums are receding or your teeth suddenly look bigger than usual
  • You feel pain in your gums

Luckily, at Fox Valley Dental, we have a periodontist available on-site for your convenience. 

One of the most common tasks of a periodontist is preventing, diagnosing, and treating periodontal disease. This is such a common task because periodontal disease affects many people. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently found that as many as half of the American population are affected by periodontal disease. Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, can take one of two forms: gingivitis or periodontitis. 

Diagram showing the various stages of gum disease

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes gums to become inflamed. Although gingivitis usually does not cause any pain or discomfort, it results in gums that are red, swollen, and that bleed easily. The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene, however it can also be caused by diabetes, smoking, aging, genetics, system conditions, stress, poor nutrition, hormonal changes (puberty/pregnancy), substance abuse, HIV, and certain medications. 

In most cases, gingivitis can be treated by professionally cleaning the teeth and practicing good oral hygiene. If caught soon enough, gingivitis can usually be reversed. During a professional teeth cleaning, excess plaque, tartart, and bacteria are removed from the mouth, which will help reduce inflammation. However, proper daily hygiene is essential to prevent gingivitis from returning. This is why it is so important to brush twice a day and floss once a day. 

If gingivitis is left untreated, then it will likely escalate into periodontitis, the advanced form of gum disease. Periodontitis is characterized by plaque that has developed below the gum line and releases toxins, creating an inflammatory response. This response causes the gums to pull back from the teeth and the supporting bone structure to begin to break down. If periodontitis continues to advance, the teeth will eventually loosen and fall out. In fact, gum disease is the main cause behind tooth loss. 

As you can see, gum disease is no joke. To keep you protected from gum disease, periodontists will often ask you about your medical history and list of current medications to see if there are any risk factors present. Then, they will carefully examine your gums and look for signs of gum recession and loose teeth. They will likely also use a dental probe to measure the depth of your gum pockets to make sure they are within the normal range. In some cases, periodontists may also order or evaluate dental x-rays to survey the underlying bone structure. 

Computerized image of a periodontal cleaning

If your periodontist believes that you have signs of gum disease, they will likely recommend a special periodontal cleaning. Although professional teeth cleanings are part of every dental appointment, periodontal cleanings are used for those with gum disease. A periodontal cleaning is known as scaling and root planing. During scaling and root planing, plaque, tartar, and bacteria are removed from the tooth roots and gum pockets. In some cases, antibiotics or antimicrobials may also be placed in the treatment area. 

In addition to gum disease treatment, periodontists can also perform the following procedures: 

  • Gum graft surgery: gum grafts are used to restore gum tissue when the gums have receded excessively. During a gum graft, tissue is generally harvested from your palate and placed over your tooth roots. As it heals, new gum tissue will begin to grow and cover the formerly exposed tooth roots. Gum grafts help decrease tooth sensitivity and increase visual aesthetics. 
  • Laser treatment: some types of periodontal therapy can be executed with a dental laser. However, laser treatment for gum disease is still being researched. 
  • Crown lengthening: this procedure is used to combat a “gummy smile”, which is the term used to describe an overgrowth of the gum tissue that makes the teeth appear smaller than usual. During a crown lengthening procedure, excess gum tissue is removed so that more of the natural tooth structure is visible. 
  • Dental implants: dental implants are artificial tooth roots that are placed in the jaw bone and used to support a dental prosthetic. Because periodontists have extensive knowledge about the tooth’s support structures, they can expertly place dental implants. 
  • Pocket reduction: this is another treatment for gum disease that consists of folding back the gum tissue in order to remove plaque and bacteria, and then securing the tissue in place. In some cases, the bone surface may be smoothed out to prevent additional plaque deposits. 
  • Plastic surgery: in cases where there is an uneven gum line or indentations in the gum line from missing teeth, plastic surgery procedures can be completed to enhance the visual aesthetics of the gum line. 

As you can see, periodontists offer a variety of periodontal services to maintain your gum health. While most of these services revolve around managing gum disease, periodontists also offer expertise in other areas as well. So, how is your current gum health? Are you one of the many Americans affected by gum disease? Unless the answer to this question is a definite no, you may want to consider having a periodontal cleaning. 

If you are interested in a periodontal cleaning, schedule a consultation with Dr. Dokhanchi and Dr. Micaletti of Fox Valley Dental today! We are proud to serve Aurora, as well as the surrounding communities of Sugar Grove, North Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, Montgomery, Oswego, and Naperville. 

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